Droves of tax-paying citizens flocked to Luneta and other public areas around the Philippines on Monday August 26, 2013 (coinciding with National Heroes Day) to protest the “Pork Barrel” scheme and allegations of corruption perhaps triggered by the recent exposure of P10-B Napoles Pork Barrel scam. The event was largely mobilized through the social media in recent days and resulted perhaps in a reasonably good show of force by concerned netizens. One of my companions Jp Fenix commented however that perhaps it shouldn’t have been dubbed the “One Million People March” with a risk that the event might not actually yield the targeted number. Perhaps it didn’t but perhaps it might be considered successful. I am waiting to see what happens in the next few days before I judge.
I was privileged to be in the company of seasoned reporters, who at first hand has witnessed and covered the Nation’s most significant democratic events in our history. While in the van, my companions were sharing field stories enriched with their personal takes on the events that shape our society today. As we came up to Plaza Ferguson in Ermita, the conversations toned down as we exited our van: Perhaps this from a sense of Déjà vu. The scene was very familiar, as not much from Ermita has really changed in decades.
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We came up through the muddied fields leading to the Grandstand with open expectations though we were quite amused by the presence of a mixed group. There were the Hare Krishna, the KMU, lots of people on bicycles (a seemingly more organized force), and what we could guess as the online organizers of the march with their stage, big screen and entertainment. It was a mixed bag with a very open agenda loosely styled under the “Occupy Movement”. The agenda was very open and free flowing. Indeed with such a loose structure, those with their own distinct agendas were expected to take advantage. Standing from far away we might’ve witnessed the former Chief Justice Corona being booed as he exited. We were not sure if it was him. Jograd de la Torre made a comical rendition of Jesse J’s “Price Tag” and Jim Paredes sang an appropriate song though we thought he struggled a bit to find his voice in the beginning. So far those were the highlights of the morning. While it may seem uneventful, we should all be happy that nothing terribly wrong happened. It was peaceful and generally pleasant despite the constant punctuations of the somewhat comically awkward chant: “Oink, Oink, Oink, Oink!” This had me asking, OK what’s next?
Without the exciting drama we could at least see the “One Million People March” for what it is: A participative and democratic display of the people’s disdain over the pork-barrel issue. While pork was the common theme, I could not help but observe some of the later speakers’ attempt to steer the issue away from the government’s accountabilities. Statements such as: “We are not mad at the government, we are mad at corruption”, seem to be redirection messages planted by pro-administration speakers who were cordially given the floor. Would you have us believe that the rally isn’t about the pork? People have become too smart to see that they were not on the same side.
On the other hand there was perhaps an attempt by former CJ Corona to direct some support for him against the administration; an attempt that obviously failed. Other messages seemed a bit more “themed” along the pork issue however a clear direction as to what happens henceforth seem lacking. There were a number of suggestive voices but no clear and unified voice on how to move forward. Participative and democratic as it may be in “Occupy” fashion, the event showed no clear owners. This perhaps is not a bad thing but also yields some rather ambiguous results. I believe the event to be a clear display of sentiment rather than purposed to make a strong demanding statement. We need to be clear in the type of results we want from government and how we want to see them happen. Let’s make clear statements rather than just expressing our sentiments. Beyond having our voices heard, lets be clearer with what we are actually trying to say. Do we want it supplemented, overhauled or merely repurposed? Are we calling for an immediate abolishment? If so, how are we to do it? These options were not clearly communicated during the march.
Déjà vu it wasn’t for my seasoned companions who have witnessed the EDSAs and the events that welled up to them. Clearly we have not reached a tipping point yet. Perhaps this could be the first among a series of other events? Perhaps it will progress? One thing is for sure for this writer, and this is the very reason why I went (beyond mere curiosity).
I believe that the Pork Barrel is a flawed concept departing from the principle of keeping three separate, distinct and equal branches of government. The idea of having an executive allotment that is distributed to the legislature is wrong and corrupts the whole principle of checks and balances. The pork corrupts our democratic system by monetizing the flow of political capital. With much lent to the president by the local machinery during his campaign, much is owed in payback in the form of pork (convenient as it is discretionary). I believe that it should be abolished. A dialogue between government and organized groups must quickly ensue to provide a clear roadmap to this demanded change. In my opinion The “Million People March” has little or nothing to do with Napoles and the P10-B scam, but rather more about the flawed, corruptible and ineffective system of discretionary allotments. While many would argue based on the merits of its design, the truth has been revealed that pork is often used to line the pockets of colluding perpetrators rather than being given to legitimate and deserving recipients. Can we really solve this systemic flaw by penalizing the NGOs (most of which could be legitimate) and other scapegoats? This crooked path must be straightened as promised but I am now starting to wonder if the administration might just be too politically indebted to do so. Let’s not allow them to do their pork paybacks with our money.
There are talks of another march in September 11 but until then I hope we could progress with a clearer strategy. Either way, I might be inclined to show up for the picnic.
John is a Senior Management Consultant for Strategy and Planning and has consulted with some of the most famous local and international companies. He has a combined experience of 15 years in the area of Enterprise Development and Corporate Strategic Planning. He has been a Professional Manager, a Management Consultant a Development Economist and an NGO Executive Director.